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the blog

Thursday Oct 1, 2009

Can We Learn To Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

"You know, George Bush was a progressive."

-- Glenn Beck, from the September 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program

Parents of small children know that, once kids get to the screechy, red-faced level, it's time to back off and just let it roll. Kids that have worked themselves up into such a state are not able to listen to logic and reason. Once they are at this point, even the most hands-on parent just has to step away. Let the tantrum run its course, and come back when the kid has exhausted himself.

It is baffling, of course. Your normally even-keeled child is near hyperventilation because you used the purple crayon to color in the zebra, when everybody knows that "zebras like to be gre--eee--eeen!" Clearly reason is not the issue here.

It seems to me that the Town Hall Birthers and 9/12 Teabaggers have similarly worked themselves into such a state that logic is not the tactic best employed. In fact, Logic seems to only enrage them further. So what is the solution?

With kids, a balance needs to be struck between validating real feelings and naming manipulative feelings. Firmly but gently, we must let it be clear that manipulative actions and words are not acceptable. If you have a real problem, I would be happy to talk about it. If you are just feeling grumpy, that is something you can do on your own.

"You are afraid of monsters under your bed / the government rationing health care? Okay, well, let's look. (pause) Hm, okay, see? No monsters / idealogical basis for rationing here! Now, take Mr. Binky / the First Amendment in case you get afraid again."

Obama seems to be doing a bit of this, such as not going on Fox News during his recent Sunday morning media campaign. He calmly but firmly refused to engage in the crazy. He will talk when you are ready to talk without yelling, Fox News.

Look, I don't mean to be condescending. But go on this journey with me for a minute, and see if you see any similarities: A little boy is refused a cookie before dinner and says, "I hate you! I hope you die!" A Facebook poll asked: "Should Obama be killed?" The choices: No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care. To a certain portion of the population, the appropriate response to public policy disagreements or cookie refusal is death.

I feel that the best way to handle this kind of overblown, overwrought sentiment is the same way you would deal with kids having a tantrum. Their feelings are real, no matter that the causes are imaginary. Perhaps if their feelings - of marginalization, of not having a voice - were named, they would get less screechy and be able to have a dialogue. We say to Audrey, "I am hearing that you would like ice cream for dinner. You are angry that we are not having ice cream. Ice cream is indeed delicious. Tonight we are having spaghetti. " - perhaps there can be some sort of dialogue if it began like, "So you are feeling marginalized? That is a very frustrating feeling. It can be very scary when there are changes in the world, and I am hearing that you feel you are not in control of what is happening".

Of course, certain people have had their emotions named, and they object, loudly. But, when your emotion is "racism", well, I can see why one would not want to own that particular feeling. Then they flop on the floor howling, "I never get to say anything! You always call me a racist, no matter what I say!" They feed this into their feelings of marginalization, and we have a whole cycle. Clearly racism needs to be called out when it is overt, and there are those who won't like it. But, like the tantruming child, you name the emotion and you leave it at that. Do Not Engage. You will never convince someone they are a racist. Name the emotion, and go about your day. Do the work. Make health care for all happen, despite the feet stomping and howls from the floor of "Communism! Socialism! Death Panels! We're all going to die!" People who are calling you an elitist Communist Fascist did not pay attention during World History class, and may not debate public policy.

I am fairly certain that Rush and O'Reilly say the crazy things they say because they are, first and formost, entertainers. They are in it for the money, the ratings, the attention. But their audience, they are really having these feelings, manufactured or no. They do feel marginalized. This feeling may not be based in any kind of reality, but the feeling is real enough. Similarly, Your kid feels that she will die unless she gets the new Hanna Montana doll. She definitely won't, but the feeling of wanting can be recognized as real.

Much like the kid who acts up in class, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk will say anything for ratings. He knows that, the more outrageous things he says, the more people pay attention. Poor guy is attention starved, it seems. The kid who constantly disrupts the class needs to be spoken to gently, and perhaps the guidance counselor can tease out the problems at home before rampant drug abuse.

Rush tries to make a couple kids fighting on the school bus into a national incident, saying that now black kids are allowed to beat up white kids. Did you ever ride the bus? For that matter, did you ever interact with children in your peer group? Kids get into fights all the time; this particular one, out of hundreds that happened just that day, is apparently cause for Rush to declare the race wars started. The manipulation escalates until someone finally speaks up and calls their racist remarks "racist", which then allows them to feel stifled and marginalized (while still somehow claiming to be in the majority...but then again, logic does not apply to The Tantrum.)

What I am saying is, we need to step out of the room and take a few deep breaths whenever Glenn Beck opens his mouth. What I am saying is, the Democrats need to get on with the business of governing, and stop trying to appease the opposition with offers of lollipops and pleas for cooperation. Let the Republicans have their tizzy on the kitchen floor. Get on with your day, and when Senator Grassley is ready to use his big boy words, then we can talk.

Posted by Traci Olsen on Oct 1, 2009 email post email Spotlight / / You are in Radio Show